Trump is targeting illegal immigrant children — US citizen kids could be next

Trump is targeting illegal immigrant children — US citizen kids could be next

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This summer, the country has focused its
 attention on the forced separation of immigrant families at the U.S. 
southern border. Initially touted by the Trump administration as a policy to deter illegal immigration, the decision drew rare bipartisan condemnation.

Under intense pressure, President Trump 
eventually signed an executive order in June to reverse the practice of 
family separation. By that point the damage had been done. Now, weeks 
later, hundreds of families are still not reunited, and doubts are 
growing that they ever will be.

This hasty “zero tolerance” policy is 
the administration’s latest in a series that use children to advance a 
regressive immigration agenda. These policies demonstrate the White 
House’s dwindling hesitation to increase penalties on the most 
vulnerable in order to advance its nativist objectives. All signs 
indicate that U.S. citizen children are its next targets.

Surrounding the president’s campaign 
against immigrants, policymakers will recognize a familiar theory to 
explain migration: “push” and “pull” factors. Push factors are 
circumstances in the country of origin that force migrants away, while 
pull factors are those that attract them to a destination country. The 
push factors driving the current surge of refugees from Central America 
include gang and societal violence, poverty, and a culture of impunity.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently suggested, with little evidence, that the U.S. asylum system is also a pull factor because it is ripe for fraud
 and abuse. But the administration has not yet articulated the pull 
factor animating its cynical stance on family separation — the desire of
 parents to provide safety and protection for their children.

For the majority of Central Americans I 
have represented, faith in American rule of law and commitment to human 
rights are the major draws to the U.S. Trumpian policies pervert these 
pull factors and use them to punish immigrant parents and children 
seeking protection.

Trump’s willingness to bargain with the 
welfare of children and families began last year, with his attempt to 
terminate of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. 
DACA offered protection to undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. 
as children by their parents. Ensuing debates about the status of DACA 
recipients failed to yield a legislative fix — in part, because of the 
President’s shifting stance on DACA legislation.

Trump opportunistically used the 
uncertain future of DACA to call for construction of his pet border wall
 project. He also blamed DACA for encouraging crossings into the U.S., 
despite the fact that new arrivals would not qualify for the program’s 
protections. This view of DACA as a “magnet” for migration falls into 
line with his administration’s efforts to subvert family integrity as a 
factor attracting immigrants to the U.S.

The Trump administration is not the 
first to try to neutralize pull factors to deter migration. In the 
1980s, policymakers created penalties for employers who knowingly hire 
undocumented laborers, relying on the theory that job opportunities in 
the U.S. were the primary pull. Ten years later, the Illegal Immigration
 and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 theorized that the 
availability of government welfare attracted newcomers. That law 
penalized immigrants — documented and undocumented — by conditioning 
their immigration status (or the opportunity for future status) on the 
avoidance of welfare benefits.

Neither one of those laws succeeded in 
meaningfully reducing irregular border crossings (in fact, unauthorized 
immigration surged in their wake). Nevertheless, the Trump 
administration is preparing to dust off this old theory — this time, 
with an unconscionable new variation on the theme. While the desire to 
secure a better future for one’s family has pulled several generations 
to the U.S., never before now has the U.S. government sought to cut off 
that magnet by brazenly targeting children for punishment.

After holding Dreamers and immigrant 
families hostage, Trump now seems determined to escalate the strategy. 
Documents from within the administration indicate that he now has his 
sights on U.S. citizen children living in poverty. In leaked drafts, the
 administration proposes increasing the penalties on immigrant families 
whose U.S. citizen children receive means-tested public benefits such as
 Women Infants and Children (WIC), Medicaid, and Supplemental 
Nutritional (SNAP).

The administration is calling for immigrants whose families use these benefits to face denial of immigration status and deportation.
 According to a recent report by the Migration Policy Institute, these 
changes could affect an estimated 9.2 million U.S. citizen children’s 
access to vital services to which they are legally entitled.

These leaked policies demonstrate the 
administration’s continued commitment to policies that most deeply 
punish those with no choice in creation of their circumstances — the 
children of immigrants. Any justification about the deterrent effect of 
these policies is wholly illogical in view of the steep toll paid by 

Even if these policies could effectively
 deter desperate families, we as a country must still reject them 
outright. The pull to opportunity, protection, and family unity are at 
the core of what we have come to understand as the American dream. While
 the need for immigration reform is real, any changes in law and policy 
must reflect these ideals.


Despite the administration’s contrary 
view, enforcing the law also includes upholding the current system’s 
emphasis on family unity and humanitarian protection. Instead, these new
 policies exploit desperate families in order to punish, scapegoat, and 
traumatize — all under the banner of law and order.


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